UTR Gaining A Foothold

UTR-1.0-logoI first heard about Universal Tennis Ratings a couple of years ago when I was asked to have one of its founders, Dave Howell, on my radio show. At the time, UTR was just starting to gather steam. The professional players were in the system, but UTR still had spotty data on junior and college players. Dave and his team were making every effort to build a following by engaging parents and coaches and others to report dual match and tournament results so that UTR could be a reliable tool for evaluating players.

Flash forward to December 2014. I had Harvard Men’s Coach Dave Fish on my radio show TWICE that month to talk about UTR’s use in college recruiting as well as during the Winter National Championships. After seeing my son use UTR to help make his final college decision, I knew this was a tool that was going to continue to gain momentum in the junior and college tennis world.

That’s exactly what’s happening. I found out last week that UTR will be used once again for selection and seeding in the 2015 New Balance High School Tennis Championships as well as for seeding in the US Open National Playoffs.

I reached out to Bruce Waschuk at UTR to get his thoughts on how this rating tool can be used more extensively in junior competition. We talked at length about the need for more level-based play a la the French system and how more and more USTA sections are adding this type of tournament to their calendars. NorCal has been way ahead of the curve in this regard, offering many opportunities for junior players to compete against a variety of age groups based solely on their Universal Tennis Rating. As Ben Ncube discussed in last week’s radio show, this type of level-based play ensures more matches, better competition, and the possibility of a smoother development curve.

Bruce also discussed UTR’s goal of including high school matches in its ratings which is a daunting task given the massive variety of rules and structures in the high school tennis world. I offered to send him data on my son’s high school team so that I could see firsthand what’s involved. It’s pretty simple, really. UTR emailed me a Google Doc that included explicit instructions on recording the match results and where to send them. It’s as easy as filling in an Excel document with player names, state, and scores then emailing the spreadsheet to the folks at UTR. Within a day of submitting my data, the information showed up on the UTR website, so these guys are pretty quick to turn around the submissions. Bruce told me they are trying to find parents and coaches around the country who are willing to collect and submit the match results for every high school team in the US. If you’re interested, please let me know, and I’ll put you in touch with the appropriate contact at UTR. As I learned at the USTA conference this past November, USTA is making a real effort to engage high-school-only players in competitive play outside of their school teams. Including these players in UTR is a step toward reaching that goal.

In terms of the US Open National Playoffs, Bill Mountford at USTA told me that the aim of using UTR to seed players this year is to include one more tool to ensure competitive matches for all entrants. Because of the nature of the Playoffs – any player aged 14 and older can enter – it’s crucial for the seeding to make sense, and using only NTRP, USTA, and ITA rankings just hasn’t worked as well as USTA had hoped. I asked Bill if we were going to see more junior tournaments using UTR for selection and seeding, and he replied that USTA is committed to using as much information as possible to make its events competitive and developmentally-appropriate for all players at all ages and levels. I’m feeling hopeful that we’ll start to see more UTR-based events in the coming months.

FYI, UTR does offer a free membership that gives you access to its basic information such as rounded-up ratings, search capabilities, and player profiles and records. For a small monthly fee, you can also view extended ratings (to 2 decimal points) as well as save your searches and notes. A slightly higher fee gives you expanded access to college players and rosters – for those of you with high school juniors and seniors, I definitely recommend this option.

If you’ve had experience with level-based tournaments, I would love to hear from you in the Comments below. After speaking with both Bruce and Bill, I am confident that UTR is here to stay and could be one of the most useful tools we’ve seen for our kids’ development in quite a while.

21 thoughts on “UTR Gaining A Foothold

  1. I’d be happy to report my son’s High School team results. I’ve been enjoying learning about UTR and seeing how much better a rating/ranking system it is than TRN or even USTA.

  2. I would be happy to report scores from my daughter’s high school team. Her team, as well as the team’s of their opponents, are comprised of a number of tournament players. In high school matches, they see many of the same players that they see in tournaments around the South. It would be great to see the results of these matches included in the UTR.

  3. Another good use of UTR would be to rank and seed players without ITF points who are applying to play ITF Qualifiers. I think on another post it was stated that the USTA does not regularly submit updated national rankings for the ITFs. Also the USTA is not the best ranking system to use for US players because players have U14, U16 and U18 USTA national rankings. How do you compare a U14 player with a national ranking of #10 vs a U18 player with a national ranking of #50 unless you use a system like UTR? UTR would be perfect for the ranking and seeding players without ITF points because players 13-18 would all be on the UTR database regardless of their home country.

    Have you heard if ITFs might use UTR in the future? Using UTR would be a lot fairer than the current system where kids with money travel to easier draw ITFs to earn a few points and rise above more qualified ITF applicants without ITF points. The US hosted ITFs have a large applicant base of both US and international players who train in US, and I have seen blue chip kids sometimes unseeded in the qualifier while 3 star kids who traveled and earned an ITF dubs point might be in the main draw. I know some of this is based on the wild cards given out by host sites, but much of it is due to the lack of an accurate ranking system to rank applicants. Aren’t selections of unranked applicants ordered by entry date? UTR would be better.

    UTR was a great choice for the New Balance tournament. It gave 2-4 star players who would not get in hards or clays a chance to play national competition. It gave freshmen a chance to play seniors at a national tournament. There were of course blue chip and 5 star players at the NB tourney last year, but some players who got in hard court and clay pulled out of the NB tourney, and probably 15-20 alternates who were not originally selected for the NB tournament were able to play. I would encourage any 2 star or higher player who is on a varsity team and who had a UTR of 10 or above to apply. If your player is from outside the east coast, he/she might be able to get in with a lower UTR as the tournament encouraged geographical diversity, and there was even a player from Alaska last year! There were a lot of college coaches there especially from the Northeast and a lot of division 3 coaches. Unfortunately my son was too young to talk to coaches, but on TRN, a lot of NE coaches looked at his profile after the tournament in spite of a so so performance at the tournament (too tired from Zonals and sectional level tournaments that ended a few days before Boston). It would probably be a good tournament too for 2 star rising juniors or seniors interested in DIII schools or for any player interested in NE schools, especially players outside the NE region. However there were some coaches there from outside NE. Some of the alternates who got in last year were rising 2 star seniors. Most of the underclassmen there were 4 star to blue chip. It was a compass draw tournament so I think all players got to play 4 or more matches. Between Zonals, the new July national 3, the NB tournament, mid level sectional play for players playing up, and clay and hards, it is hard for players to choose the right summer tournaments, and we learned last summer, more is not better! I wish my son had just played Zonals, skipped sectional play, and then headed to Boston. This year he has decent chance to get in clay and has a shot at hard courts so he wont play Boston, but the NB tourney was fun one and well organized!

  4. Lisa – Great approach. What is interesting is the USTA National and several Sections publish weekly ranking list that would give the “best” selection and seeding for each USTA event. USTA Florida has an AdHoc approach and applies points and rankings based on arbitrary administrative deadlines. This results in kids who have earned points/ranking positions not receiving those points/rankings that also determine seeding, for weeks at a time. For example a kid could win 3 Events and have NONE of those points updated to their rankings (Section) before the 4th event.

    So USTA, UTR, ITF whatever system is used needs to be adopted by all the sections and National has to mandate that in order to receive your “Quota” spots you follow consistent rules.

    Ratings/Rankings/Points mean nothing if they are not applied in a timely consistent manner. Seems UTR is consistently updated as well as USTA National Rankings. These timely updates allow parents to plan a flow from event to event.

    I many other jr sports, AAU Basketball, Baseball, ODP Soccer they get the best against the best every chance, and Tennis with UTR seems to have the tools in a scattered landscape BUT the information is there.

  5. Don’t be so sure seminoleG about UTR consistency. My daughter has played 3 tournaments since her last update and that was back in mid February
    and those are yet to show up on her profile. I do like UTR but the consistency is not there yet. Fortunately, our Southern region is very good about updating points and rankings,

  6. Yes…A friend of mine sent Southern Sections process to Florida as a model for updating rankings. Don’t think it will do much, but at least it seems the Parents of Florida are a bit tired of these sometimes 3-4 week delay for updates.

  7. Florida only updates their Sectional ranking immediately ahead of the closing date for an in-state L3-5, and the Endorsement list only ahead of National L1 events. The last FL Endorsement list was on Jan 13 for the Spring Team event which closed Feb 5.

    While it’s frustrating to have to wait for your hard-won results to be reflected in the ranking, it really doesn’t matter that much. Yeah it could make you a seed in a an L6 Super Series, but it wouldn’t prevent acceptance. The Designated L5s and above are where the 32 or 64 draw cut-off makes your rank an issue of importance, and they do update it ahead of these events. As you already mentioned, the national lists are updated weekly, so there is no lag that would hurt your entry into national events.

    My running complaint with Florida is that they only count the National L1s and two other national events played out of state. So if you want to drive to Georgia for a national event, you likely will only receive national points, and no Sectional points.

    I kind of like the CA method of counting everything. Sure, you will have some wealthy point-chasers who get in when they shouldn’t, but they are really too few to make an impact. We played only Sectional events, the National L2s, 3s and 4s that were in-state, and the Clays, and still managed to stay in the top 30 to 50 in the Nation and 4 to 6 in the State. We did play one Winter Nat, and one Hard Court, but couldn’t justify it economically on an every-year basis.

    Probably could have climbed higher Nationally by playing more out of state events, but a good ranking can be achieved without much travel. What my player complained about, was having to play the same opponents in every event. I can see how that would be frustrating, and sympathize with those who want to travel to vary the opponent lists. We made our decisions on a “need vs want” basis and didn’t really need to travel, so we saved those dollars to put toward things that took precedence.

  8. best thing i have heard out of usta almost ever….using UTR….now the structure has to be set so that junior players play a minimum number of events in section and at national select tournaments. only drawback with UTR is junior players starting to duck tournaments. a minimum number of tournaments has to be set in sectional play, national regional, national select etc….i havent thought about the how….but i have discussed how important this concept is.

    UTR will allow US junior players to be evaluated better by NCAA coaches against “foreigners” and allow parents to make more informed decisions in regards to improving their childs level of play.

  9. Lin – Actually your wrong…Florida posted rankings the weekend a National L2 was being played. So the points LOTS OF THEM earned in one of the few National Events Florida gives Florida points did not post in time for a Florida L4, at least 2 kids were not selected!

    Florida also had a delay in posting results from that same L4, so the national points were not awarded in time for Easterbowl, and guess what a KID missed the selection by 2 people. Yes those points would have made the difference.

    Gets Better the May National Selection will play on the same weekend the Sectional closes (Bobby Curtis) so once again a kid could play the National L2, do well enough to get a hi seed on maybe someone with few Florida points wins rounds and unless they run the rankings again after the National L2 a kid may miss the Sectional…….or a deserved seed.

    All in All administrative processes, and UTR AdHoc use by some sections further mucks things up.

    My point is a uniformity amongst sections is needed.

  10. Can you explain the desire to seed by UTR (which I agree with) with the desire for more competitive matches? It seems to me that as you do a better job identifying the best players in an event (the seeds), the quality of the seeded players will improve relative to the quality of the unseeded players. So the early round matches with the seeds versus the non-seeds will be LESS competitive, not more competitive.

    I agree that seeds should be better separated so that they will meet later in the event, but better seedings will provide easier (less competitive) roads to the finals.

    One way you could make a draw more competitive would be put all the seeds in the same quarter of the draw, have the #1 and #2 seed play in the first round, the #3 and #4 seed play in the first round, the winner of the 1&2 and 3&4 play in the second round, etc., and have all the unseeded players play in the rest of the draw. An unseeded player wouldn’t meet a seed until the semifinals or finals. Overall the matches would probably be much more competitive, but I think everyone would agree that this would be an odd way to run an event.

    Another way you can make play more competitive would be to drop all sectional quotas, but is anyone seriously suggesting that? I like it that national events have players from all around the country. It would be kind of boring to see 90% of the draw filled by Southern California, Florida, Texas, and Southern players. Even the NCAA basketball tournament includes every conference champion (even if they are not really all that good).

    I agree that the UTR does a better job assessing the quality of a player than the USTA points system, and I also think that seeding by the UTR would be a good thing. The seeds have earned their right to be separated from other top seeds. But this would give them easier, less competitive paths for advancement.

    Am I missing something here?

  11. SeminoleG – I really do empathize. We experienced the same thing, and I was POd at the time. I remember sitting down and rethinking the schedule to achieve specific results that would allow my player to get the Sectional ranking that made entry into the L1s likely.

    I think Florida posts their updated results 3-days ahead of the close of registration for Designated (L5) and Sectional (L3 & 4) events. If a National event is playing, I wouldn’t expect them to “hold the presses” and wait until it concludes to post those results.

    National updates their ranking every Wednesday. They won’t wait until Thursday or Friday to accommodate the inclusion of an on-going event.

    Each section, and national, have a system in place for updating the rankings, which I think is one thing you disagree with, and I’m with you. Uniformity would be a wonderful concept, and should be embraced, but all sections believe theirs is the best and won’t consider anyone else’s. National would rather use their clout to impose their edicts on us, the unwashed masses, so they aren’t going to insist on uniformity either.

    Just a supposition, but I think the incumbent software system it antiquated, and such a pain that they need some lead time to get things entered correctly, and then more time to correct errors. Getting “live” or even recent updates, is unlikely until they invest in new software. My suspicion is that someone sold them on having a proprietary software. Now, any modifications are prohibitively expensive, and can only be provided by the company that sold it in the first place.

  12. I like UTR a lot, it is very useful in many ways. i was just wondering if anybody else is experiencing long loading times on UTR, and sometimes after you click on the right player name, just switching to a random player or a high ranked ATP player? Maybe my software is to blame.

  13. I have had the same software issues-switch to random players, but I cant complain about a free basic memebership.

    I do wish UTR updated more frequently. Is the data updated once or twice a month? I know tournaments from 2 weekends ago are not showing up.

    I think UTR is a better vehicle for selection more than it is for seeding. It predicts which players will be competitive with each other, not which will win. If a player plays a lot of 3 set matches against higher ranked opponents but chokes at the end, the player would be ranked significantly higher on UTR than on TRN. UTR might be a tool in the future for tournaments designed similar to Zonals where there are multiple levels and higher points for wins at higher vs lower lines. That might be away to address Sam’s issue about competitive matches.

    While it is not visible to viewers, the TRN model does come up with a list of all ranked players exclusive of class year, and then later breaks it down by year. I Emailed a question one time about ranking and heard more about the model. While the main purpose of TRN is to help parents and coaches see where players fit as far as their recruiting class, maybe in the future, TRN could make the full downloadable file available to tournament directors for select national tournaments. UTR is the best when there is a mix of US and international players. For tournaments with US only players, UTR may include more international results, while the full TRN unaged listed might be more accurate as it captures win vs close matches. However either would be better than current USTA national rankings. I think TRN is including more ITF results.

    The USTA national ranking is gradually losing credibility as more players gravitate towards ITF. In the past some parents have suggested a minimum USTA national ranking for national championships. However I looked at the top 100 TRN for junior boys, and 20 of those had USTA rankings over #400 and 6 of them had USTA rankings over #600 including one with no USTA national points at all. A 5 star on TRN might have a USTA national ranking of 450 and the player behind him has a USTA ranking of 36. Both players per TRN are very close in ability, but you wouldnt be able to tell from the USTA national ranking. I hope a better ranking system will be used in the future for national tournaments. It could be UTR or it could be TRN.
    The best thing about UTR is to see how junior players compare to college players at colleges of interest.

  14. Hello Diane,

    We appreciate your feedback, as the Universal Tennis Team is always looking for ways to improve our service offerings.

    To clarify a few items you mentioned in your above post:

    – The player ratings on the UTR system are updated daily.

    – We provide extensive ITF player rating coverage, as we process singles match results for all ITF Junior Circuit (U18) events, as well as ITF Futures and Challenger events.

    – We typically process USTA Junior Circuit tournament results within 7 days. If you do not see the results you are looking for on our UTR system within two weeks after the completion date of a tournament, please contact us with the tournament ID number so that we can verify the status of any potentially missing results. Our contact form can be found at: http://www.universaltennis.com/contact-us.aspx

    You mentioned that “The best thing about UTR is to see how junior players compare to college players at colleges of interest.”

    We do appreciate that our partnership with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) allows us the ability to precisely and reliably determine individual players’ ratings, which is seamless as a junior transitions into college tennis. However, it is our hope that juniors do more than just compare their ratings with college players, but that they actually play college players during level-based competition to help improve their player development.

    The Universal Tennis Team is not satisfied with just telling tennis players how good they are. It is our mission to help grow the game of tennis through better competition — regardless of the player’s age or gender.

    Best regards,

    Bruce Waschuk
    On behalf of the Universal Tennis Team

  15. One of the worst things you can do is provide college coaches another tool to not properly scout their recruits. When TRN gained steam, there were many college coaches did 80% recruiting without watching a match. Then we wonder why kids get to schools and have problems with the coaches, teams, etc and need to transfer. Colleges coaches need to watch their recruits. They need to watch them when they are winning, when they are losing and off the court when they are interacting. Those that do have a better track record of team harmony and a satisfied recruit on campus. Those that don’t are rolling the dice. Having been thru this process 3 times, I wouldn’t ever pick a college where a coach hasn’t watch my kid on multiple occasions.
    UTR itself has it’s strengths. Studying it for a while. I think one has to be careful on going too far with ‘competitive matches’. Great value, but you know the matches that really pushes a player? It’s the match they aren’t supposed to lose – not by a long shot. That’s the match that sends them back to the drawing board to re-double their efforts to fill gaps, etc. You see it at every level…. Sure you get some that just hate to lose and will work hard after any loss. But quite often a ‘good loss’ is ‘acceptable’ and no reason to change routine. A bad loss always has an impact. If you fill the draw with the same type of player EVERY time, how do you learn to win against different type of players that challenge you in unexpected ways…. That one player that can’t beat anyone but seems to have your number…. Finally, any system that penalized for a bad loss will create bad behavior. Losing against a lower UTR? just default or not even risk playing the match esp in the backdraw. We still need a system that promotes putting it on the line. Not getting a ranking and ‘parking it’. Mind you, the National system can be easily improved. Regardless I would hope that we would demand a higher quality website before being dependent on yet a new ranking system…. And just exactly how many subscriptions does a parent need to have a kid in tennis? Tournament fees, coaching costs, club fees, travel fees and now monthly fees for TRN and UTR ? When does it stop? Everybody has a hand out telling you how they’ll make your player better….

  16. Bruce, this is one of the more interesting discussions I’ve seen in a while. The UTR definitely has everyone’s attention. Any chance you can comment on the competitiveness angle?

    Ignoring how players are selected into a tournament, do you anticipate that better seeding will lead to less competitive match play? I understand your goal of better competition overall, but does this apply to national tournaments? Personally I think the best performing players have earned the right to an easier road to a championship.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter because it seems like a lot of people are making dual claims about the UTR that appear to be at odds with one another.

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